Cultivate your child’s natural curiosity about their body by using this simple explanation about why they have skin.
Your skin is the largest working part of your body. It helps to keep you healthy, cool and warm, and even though you can’t see them, it is home to millions of tiny bacteria. The human body is covered in a hairy, stretchy, layer of cells called skin. Your skin does a lot of jobs for your body, including defending it against invaders and temperature control. The skin is your body’s biggest organ – an organ is a collection of lots of tiny cells that work together to carry out a specific job in your body. Another example of an organ in your body is your heart. Your heart’s job is to pump blood around your body.
what lives on your skin?
You can’t see them and you can’t feel them on your skin either, but your skin is covered with tiny living organisms called bacteria. Bacteria live almost everywhere, even on the planet Mars. Bacteria are so small that you need a microscope to see them. Bacteria come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some have tails and these are called flagella (say: fla-gel-ah), which means that these bacteria can swim. Some bacteria are shaped like round spheres, similar to extremely small tennis balls. They often stick to other round bacteria and sometimes look like corncobs. Some bacteria are good bacteria, and you need them to keep healthy. Some bacteria make you sick, and these are called pathogens (say: path-o-gens).
bacteria like your forearms
Bacteria live all over your skin. They really like warm places to live like under your arms, behind your knees and between your fingers and toes. Scientists have recently discovered that there are more different types of bacteria on your forearms than anywhere else on your body. Bacteria are on your skin from the moment you are born. They are always there. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of bacteria on and in your body. Some scientists say that if you weighed all the bacteria in your whole body, it would be 1.5kg. That’s the same as four footballs or 17 iceblocks.
what are bacteria doing all day?
The bacteria on your skin help keep it healthy. They do that by stopping other bacteria from growing on your skin. Because there are so many good bacteria on your skin, there is no room for new bad ones to live for very long. Most of the time your skin is very healthy.
Sometimes your skin can’t defend off all invaders, so you can get an infection, which is caused by pathogens. Infections on the skin can happen when there is a break in it, like from an insect bite or graze when you fall over. Open skin lets the bacteria in. A common skin infection is school sores/impetigo (say: im-pah-tie-go). Impetigo looks like a honey-coloured crust on the skin. It can form blisters, which are full of liquid that contain even more bacteria. These blisters are easy to pop and then impetigo can spread all over your body if it is not treated quickly. This infection can also be spread very easily to other people.
washing your hands
There is a very good reason to wash your hands. Washing your hands removes the pathogens that can live there. Washing your hands does not remove the bacteria that live on your skin. Imagine you have been out and about all day, touching lots of things, maybe a toilet seat, or touching other people that are sick. You then go home, get something to eat and put your fingers in your mouth, or wipe your fingers in your eyes. This is how the pathogens can get inside your body and make you sick. Washing and drying your hands properly are one of the best ways to stop the spread of infections.
a little bit of dirt is good for you
However, washing your hands or your skin too much, and not getting dirty, is also not good! Scientists say that you need to get dirty, so that the bacteria on your skin learn how to stop the pathogens from growing on it. Just like it is not possible to ride a bike straight away, your bacteria need to practice to look after you.
Sara Filoche wants to share the science behind health, and hopes that it will inspire young minds